Much like the managerial position, the general manager's spot on the New York Yankees was ever-changing throughout the vast majority of George Steinbrenner's reign as Yankees owner. As Baseball Prospectus would say, their GMs were constantly on the "wobbly chair," as the franchise underwent nine changes at general manager in a 12-year span from 1979-91, a ridiculously high rate.
In the '90s though, that rate calmed as Gene "Stick" Michael was brought back for five seasons until he took a step back to focus on scouting alone and Bob Watson took over for two years, overseeing the Yankees winning the 1996 World Series title thanks to Michael's contributions. By the end of '97 though, Watson had tired from Steinbrenner's meddling, and he retired from the position, preferring to take a vice-president job with Major League Baseball. Thus, an opening was there, and Steinbrenner elected to give the job to his 30-year-old Assistant GM, who had been with the franchise since being originally hired as an intern in 1986: Brian Cashman.
Cashman is now in the middle of his 17th season on the job, the most in franchise history since their first GM, Ed Barrow, who presided over the team for 25 years. The nature of working for the Yankees and the Steinbrenner family has certainly made his time with the team tumultuous, and Cashman nearly left after the 2005 season over frustrations dealing with Streinbrenner overruling him based off conflicting advice from his Tampa office. However, Cashman stayed on with the team after it was promised that he would be given more leverage in such decisions, and ESPN's Andrew Marchand noted today that despite Cashman's contract expiring at the end of the 2014 season, it's unlikely that he goes anywhere:
Those always asking about Cashman's status, all indications are Yankees will want him back after his contract expires at end of year.— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) June 24, 2014
Cashman has appeared to have a solid relationship with Hal Steinbrenner since the Boss's son took over operations of the team in 2007, so this news shouldn't be considered too much of a shock. That being said, some fans are not going to be happy with the decision because they are not overly impressed with Cashman's work as Yankees general manager. Of course, this is also not news because numerous Yankees fans, WFAN callers, and people on Twitter have been howling about Cashman for years.
Such calls have always been so silly to me. Under Cashman, the Yankees have been wildly successful, winning four World Series titles, six American League pennants, 12 American League East division titles, and missing the playoffs just twice in 16 seasons. They still haven't finished under .500 since 1992. People seeking to discredit Cashman have always said things along the lines of "Well, *I* would have all that success if I had the Steinbrenners' payroll to work with, too!"
It's true that Cashman has more payroll flexibility than most GMs in the game, and that makes him unique. It has always difficult to accurately compare Cashman to his contemporaries; only recently has the Dodgers' spending spree put one GM (Ned Colletti) in a similar position to Cashman. So while Cashman has obviously made some mistakes with contracts, as all GMs do from time to time, he was granted the financial wherewithal by the Steinbrenners to take those risks. Yes, giving Kei Igawa a five-year, $20 million contract was a mistake, but because the Yankees are the Yankees, they could afford to bury him in Triple-A for basically the duration of the deal after it was evident in his first year that he was bad. They won a World Series while Igawa made 26 starts in Scranton. Carl Pavano turned out to be a mistake, but people forget that the Yankees were far from the only team after him. Remember "Pavanopalooza?" The righty met with the Red Sox, Angels, and Tigers as well (just to name a few teams). He was a hot commodity that other teams wanted, and he just didn't work out. So it goes with free agency.
People like to cite the bad contracts with Cashman (and sometimes even bring up the 10-year Alex Rodriguez extension, even though that was much more Hank Steinbrenner than Cashman), but they tend to dismiss the ones that have worked out well. Mike Mussina was one of the best pitchers of the 2000s, and Cashman locked up the last eight years of his career in pinstripes. Signing Robinson Cano to that cheap contract extension in February 2008 gave them one of the biggest bargains in baseball when Cano was putting up MVP-caliber years from 2009-2013. Hideki Matsui was a splendid international signing, Jason Giambi was ultimately a terrific 143 OPS+ hitter throughout his seven years as a Yankee, Johnny Damon proved to be a crucial addition to the 2009 champions... the list goes on. Like every GM, there have been great signings, bad signings, and signings with mixed results that helped the team win anyway (On the trade market, Cashman has had similar ups and downs, again like most GMs.)
The farm system could be in better shape, but it doesn't help when you're picking at the end of the first round of the draft on an annual basis due to your success. Talent is much more muddled after the first 10 picks or so than in the first rounds of other sports' drafts, and it's up to the guys under Cashman who the Steinbrenners have hired and supported (Farm Director Mark Newman and Scouting Director Damon Oppenheimer) to pick out the best prospects from the group. It's up to Newman and Oppenheimer to find and develop these prospects, and it's not as though kids like Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Rob Refsnyder, and Greg Bird offer zero hope. Cashman can't just snap his fingers and conjure an Andrew McCutchen-type prospect out of nowhere.
On the whole, Cashman's been fine. If Cashman was to be fired, who would replace him? Former general managers who might be seeking employment would be the likes of Jim Bowden, Josh Byrnes, and Omar Minaya. Pass. Cashman is so widely respected among the baseball community that he would be snatched up within moments of being let go by the Yankees. Given his long track record of team success, to say that he should be fired is setting expectations way too high. Bring back Cash.